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Who is Self Help Sunday?

A little bit about me

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I’m a mid-fifties northern Californian who retired in November 2015. I’ve always liked to write, but haven’t really written much creatively since 6th grade. Sixth grade was when I wrote a story in my AP English class and it garnered a bit of praise from the teacher. Writing that story was almost an out-of-body experience. I woke up with ideas and the writing process flowed.

I read that story recently, and I cringed just a bit. Well, I was only in 6th grade.

Writing has been part of my work life but has mainly been in the form of varying types of government communication: legislative and policy analysis, programmatic and fiscal guidance, and grants. I’m looking forward to just writing what I want and being myself – whoever that is.

Because I’m not always sure. I’m very fortunate to have retired at a young age and it sure beats working. However, it is a transition. I’m still in the process of figuring all of it out.

So this is one of the things I’ve wanted to do: start a blog. So here it is. #blogging101 #retirement #writing

What I DO like about the holidays

A few things I like about this time of the year

The last blog I wrote was a bit of a downer. So I want to offset that some by offering up what I do like about the holidays.

The lights. I love that people take the time and effort to decorate, especially with lights. We are not so inclined. I do love driving through the neighborhood and seeing the different displays. I think the world would be a lot more cheerful with lights up all year round. But I do understand not wanting to pay the energy bills.

Mint m and ms. I love them. Not the dark chocolate m and m’s; i LIKE those but I love the holiday mint ones. And I think they’ve changed over the years. They seem to be larger in size than in the past. But the same great taste. I am ashamed that I’ve already gone through several bags already.

Gingerbread. Especially the cookies that you can get at Trader Joe’s. Yum. The little ones with the white fudge icing.

Hallmark movies. I do enjoy a good cheesy Hallmark movie. One year I got hooked because the first one I watched was The Nine Lives of Christmas.

I mean, it has cats, a fire fighter, and a female veterinarian. What’s not to like???

I like the change in weather. Here in California, we don’t have extremes but in Sacramento, the leaves change and it gets plenty cold. I like wearing sweaters and fleece and taking a hot bath.

So there are a few things I like about this time of year. Even if some of these same things makes me wistful and sad. What are a few of your favorite things?

#Christmas, #m&ms, #traderjoes

Holiday Decorations

 

I got down some of our holiday decorations today in a sudden splurge of inspiration. Maybe it was watching the Kardashian’s Christmas special…where money is no object and there are vast sweeping entry ways to stage a grand tree.

This is what our tree looks like.

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Yes, that is an artificial tree on our barbeque. Outdoors.

I love a good Christmas tree and who wouldn’t enjoy having a DECORATOR like the Kardashians to do all the work and make things pretty. I’m just realistic. We have these two to contend with – our teenage girls who get into anything and everything.

 

I can’t even leave toilet paper on the roll anymore. Taffy gets frustrated and tears into it.

It’s been years since we’ve had a real tree. For a couple of years when my husband’s kids were younger, we’d get one for his house in the Bay Area. I wouldn’t bother, because we’d end up going to my parents’ house in North Carolina and what was the point to be gone and have to come home and take it down. And my husband, who we call Mr. Safety, worried about dry trees and house fires.

This time of year is a bit melancholy for me. We used to be with my parents’ over Christmas and despite being its own kind of hard, it was what we did. There were usually a few social events to attend and my dad did his own best at decorating. He bought a really nice artificial tree from the airline magazine one year – it was perfect for him because you basically unfolded the thing and it was decorated and pre-lit. We’d get to the house and he’d already decorated. We would also be treated to the story of his childhood plastic Santa and reindeer toy that graced the mantelpiece; a little worse for the wear after spending summers in a humid un-airconditioned attic.  It broke my heart a little when I tossed the tree onto the thrift store loading dock after he died and we were clearing out the house. I couldn’t quite bring myself to do the same to the plastic Santa.

Holidays there were further complicated by my mom’s illness. Holidays are a variation on a theme when your mom has dementia and you live 3,000 miles away. Over the course of the 15 years my mom was in assisted living, I’d spend the 4-5 days there taking her to appointments so my dad would get a break; help get new clothes or take her shopping; act as hostess for my dad so he could reciprocate with the neighbors who invited him for dinner every Sunday. On Christmas Day, we’d have to organize the schedule to optimize the chance that Mom would be able to participate in opening gifts and eating a meal with us. It was a dicey situation — sometimes she wouldn’t want to get out of bed when we came to get her, and when we got her home, she had little interest in opening gifts. She was also impatient about food and would continually ask when we would eat, or get into dessert or continually ask for a diet Coke. I used to joke that she was royalty in another life because she was always asking us to get her something.

My mom died this year, on June 16. The same day my dad did, four years ago. So as much as those holidays were difficult, they are more so this year because she is no longer on the earth. I have such mixed feelings about her death. She lived with a cruel illness for too long. But what I would give to see her again.

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The unexpected.

I broke my ankle on Monday trying to get into a kayak. No I wasn’t drinking….just coke zero. Having fun hanging out with some friends on Labor Day.

It was my turn to go kayaking – my friends are very generous and allow us to use theirs since we don’t have kayaks. So I straddled the kayak and then…I slipped. My right ankle gave way and I fell ON IT. And into the water. Which was funny, actually except I couldn’t get up without help. And realized right away I shouldn’t get into the kayak, so I walked back up to our table and sat down, feet up, and someone got me a big bag of ice.

My ankle and foot began swelling immediately. We left soon after, me needing a lot of help getting to the car. Once home, I continued to ice and elevate my foot.

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At the doctor the next day, an x-ray confirmed a fracture. I was in an air cast for a week, and got a boot during my visit to orthopedics yesterday.

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This experience has been painful and emotional. I’m having a hard time getting around; the crutches and walker hurt to use. My sister brought over a wheeled walker, which is better. But I still get exhausted trying to get around and have to depend on my husband for a lot of help.

This isn’t easy for me. I am very independent. I’m still trying to do things myself and putting weight on it more than I should. It hurts. And I’m frustrated.

I don’t ask for help easily and I know this is a problem. My parents were both stoic Mid-Westerners, and the “up by the boot straps” mentality runs deep. But I know that ignoring the need for help can be risky. My tendency is to go go go and ignore what I need. This got me into trouble 3 years ago, after my dad died and I had to manage things related to his estate, and take over the responsibility of my mom’s care.

Being disabled this way, even temporarily, made me sympathetic for those who have permanent physical challenges. And it made me really sad thinking about my mom, and how she was that way for a really long time – she acquired dementia at age 65, and had other illnesses including COPD, and limitations from a stroke. So I’ve been crying some the past few days, as I remember my mom and her bravery as she faced so many health hurdles.

Well, the cats have found the walker interesting and haven’t hesitated to claim it as their own. foot (2)

So will leave that here.

When I miss them the most

I’ve been away from this place a lot and I was never here much to begin with. I’m hoping that will change.

Today I found out I broke my ankle. Like a lot of the injuries I’ve had, there’s a story. This one was trying to get into a kayak yesterday (Labor Day). I slipped and went down, which was pretty funny as I went butt-first into the water –except I landed awkwardly on my ankle and it hurt. I needed help getting up and was going to try again (I really wanted to kayak!) but I couldn’t put any weight on it. Sure enough, as I sat in the zero-gravity chair and put ice on it, it swelled to a nice fat shape and began to turn blue.

Being like the rest of my family, pick yourself up by the bootstraps kind of lot, I socialized until my husband returned from his kayak journey. By the time we got home, I couldn’t walk on my foot.

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My dad was a doctor and a good one at that. Whenever anyone used to have medical issues or injuries, they’d contact him. Anyone. He was happy to help anyone and he was an excellent clinician, even over a distance. So when I’m hurting now, I just want to talk to him. And I can’t.

I’ve felt recently that friends and acquaintances are tired of my grief. Even my new grief, which is from my mom dying on June 16….four years to the day that my dad died. So I’m putting it here. And missing them both while I’m hurting. Physically, and emotionally.

 

Making holidays happen.

Who makes the holidays happen in your family and life? Lately, I’ve been a bit hyper-aware that it’s women. Most of my life, it was my mom who made things happen. She was the one who shopped and did the stockings, and decorated. We’d usually get some See’s candy and those Lifesavers storybooks. Does anyone remember those? I didn’t particularly care for them, but it was part of what Christmas was in our house.

When I was REALLY young, we’d be at my grandmother’s house in Kansas. My aunt and uncle were cool intellectual types and would get us matching jammies from someplace chic like Bloomingdale’s. This is what I was told, not what I remember!

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When my parents first moved to NC in 1983, they’d give a big party at our house before Christmas. My mom had help, but I know it was stressful and hard for her, being very introverted and somewhat socially phobic. Later in life when my mom got sick, my dad was pretty good about holidays and birthdays. He liked giving gifts, and he liked Christmas. While it was stressful for us to go back there to visit every year, I miss it now that he’s gone. Somehow, he got into Tiffany (!) and I have several nice necklaces from there, mainly the Elsa Peretti heart necklace. I saw this necklace recently and know that if Dad was alive, he’d get it for me for Christmas.

What I notice being out and about is that it’s usually women who are shopping and wearing the holiday sweaters and jewelry. Preparing for family and work gifts, for the meals. The men are usually tagging along, pushing the cart or looking lost (or in some cases, annoyed). I told my husband several times he has it easy. I’m the one who gives gifts to our vet, my doctor, my hairdresser, I’m preparing cash for our pet-sitter while we’re gone to San Diego and remembered to pick up some nice coffee and a candle for his brother and SIL (whom we are staying with).

This time of year can be fun and also difficult. So much pressure if you let it. I try not to. I try to plan during the year and keep it simple for the few people I do give something to. I’ve been sad a lot this year, missing my dad. I was with my sisters last night – my older sister wanted us to get together, so we went over to their house. KT decided to make veggie chili so he’d have something to eat, and it ended up being the main course. I brought mini-bundt cakes for dessert. Although I’ve said I’d prefer a gift certificate rather than “stuff” my sister got me a bunch of things that while thoughtful, aren’t what I’d use or need. I’m trying to clean stuff out, not accumulate more! I gave both of them gift cards, a book, and a shirt.

My sisters are gathering again for Christmas. My aunt (mom’s sister) has made a big deal of flying out here from Indianapolis for the past couple of years to spend the day with us. My cousin lives in LA so they fly there and then drive up. In 2014, we were all together and my aunt asked if there was anything she could do to help my mom. I said, well, you could go visit her. My aunt drives to SC to see my cousin a lot so goes right by where my mom lives, and travels a lot for fun. She said she would but she never has. It has really bugged me for a while, and I’m working hard not to let it.But it doesn’t mean I want to spend time with her or my cousin. My cousin and uncle drink too much and they have very different political views. I’m at the point in my life where I don’t feel the need to spend time with people, even family, if I don’t feel like it.

So I’m hoping to get some rest over the next few days, read, and go for some walks. I hope all of you are able to have the holiday(s) that you wish for. Peace and light.

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Scents and Sadness

I have several pieces of clothing that are my dad’s. After he died in 2013, I went through a really bad period in my life. In addition to grieving, a bunch of other things happened, one after the other, and I became extremely depressed and anxious. For more than a year, I wasn’t very functional. I still went to work, but life was pretty bad.

I spent a lot of energy trying to hide my sadness, especially from my husband. Because I was working hard at fighting my depression, I would spend time almost every evening listening to a guided meditation or CD to help me relax. It also was a great chance for me to cry without me feeling like I was effecting my husband.

One of the things I would do would be to go to the closet and smell one of Dad’s shirts. It’s a short-sleeved cotton shirt, with stripes, that he used to wear during the summer. It smells like him and I would hold it to my nose and breathe him in. You don’t think about these things until you lose someone; that they have a certain smell that you will never smell again, just like you won’t hear their voice or feel them hug you.

I also have a sweater that used to hang on the back of his chair in his office. His assistant was cleaning out his office (thank God) and would send me and my sister’s stuff in the month’s following his death. This sweater came in one of the packages and also reminds me of him. It’s kind of Christmas-y, with maroon and green cotton yarn, and he’d wear it when we would visit at that time of the year.

I also have a cap that he wore. He’d put it on when we’d go out, again, during the winter when we’d visit at Christmas. Since I doubt he ever washed it, it definitely smells like him!

So today I’m missing him terribly. I opened the closet, and breathed into the shirt. I panicked a bit, since it had lost some of its scent. Then there it was, on the collar.

I’ve put it into a storage bag. Not to keep anything out; to keep the smell of my dad in.

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One Year of Retirement – A few things I’ve learned.

A year ago on November 9, I retired from 26+ months of state service. The past year has understandably been a time of transition for me and my husband – more so than I think I anticipated.

On Facebook, I wrote down some thoughts about what I had learned in the first six months of retirement. The second six have brought even more illumination to this new life I now life. So I thought I’d share what I’ve learned here on the blog.

  • Even though everyone says that retirement is a big change and words like transition and phrases like “finding yourself “are bandied about… I am continually surprised that it is hard. And I don’t feel particularly safe saying this to a lot of people, unless they are also retired. Because most people will TELL you rather than ask you …Isn’t it wonderful? I’m so jealous! I’m hoping to retire …. And they are off telling you their plans rather than asking you what it’s like. But when you think of it, it’s a bigger change than a lot of the other ones you go through in the course of life. I’ve gone to work every day for the past 30+ years (if you add in working in high school, college, grad school, etc) and so NOT working feels kind of weird.
  • Time seems to go by faster than when I was working. And I am aware and more conscious of how precious it is. Maybe because I have more choice about how I spend it, I feel kind of anxious sometimes that I am missing out and that I should be doing a class or more volunteer work or traveling more.
  • Ironically, I feel that sometimes I WASTE time more than before. In my life, I was taught and placed a high value on being productive. I am a list maker. So when there are days like today, when I meet someone for lunch and hit the store and that’s pretty much it…well, I feel kind of lazy. Or like yesterday, I spent some time watching carpool karaoke on YouTube.
  • On the other hand, I am giving myself a bit more slack not to cram so many things into one day that it stresses me out. When I was working, it was a regular occurrence to run errands at lunch and stop at the store on the way home. I did and did and did all of the time. It broke me. I have taken a friend’s routine to heart: she tries to only schedule one thing a day. Today was a biggie for me: I went to the gym, volunteered at the library AND met a friend for lunch.
  • I am less organized than I was before. I don’t have a work calendar to ground me and haven’t quite gotten the hang of just using my phone. So I use that, and a small paper calendar. I originally bought a big one, like I used to use for work, but realized I didn’t need it. But for someone who prides herself on being on time and not losing things, I am late to meet people at times, and have lost stuff. It kind of bugs me.
  • Either my house is dirtier or I’m just noticing it now that I’m home more. Or it’s Pinterest. When I was working, the basics got taken care of. Clean clothes, groceries, bathrooms scrubbed. Floors every couple of weeks when they got to me. Since I retired, I have cleaned the blinds in the kitchen, the fan over the stove, and the floor under the fridge. That last one was particularly horrifying. There’s a schedule on Pinterest that says how often you are supposed to clean things in your house. Apparently, the blinds and the fridge coils are every 6 months. Well, suffice to say, we’ve bought the fridge and the blinds in 2009 and they were cleaned for the first time about 2 months ago. The irony is that even though I have more time,  I’m less motivated than ever to clean.
  • I gained 20 pounds give or take since retiring. One of the things I’ve really liked about retirement is that I can work out when I want to. I typically do something after breakfast – walk or run, gym, etc. Much better than at 5:15 before work. But regular workouts have not offset the weight gain. And I think I know why. First, when I first retired, there was a feeling of WHOO HOO – permanent vacation! I’ll stay up as late as I want! I’ll drink wine every night! It’s the holidays! Oh boy, everyone wants to schedule lunch with me!! Well, the piper gets paid big time when you are doing all THAT all of the time. Plus, a stress fracture. I got one in my left tib/fib in late March, effectively squelching my plans to run 2 other half marathons in the spring. Because I really need to exercise, I tried to do other things that didn’t really let it heal. Finally – I think I’m just less active on a daily basis. While working, I’d walk to and from my car at the beginning and ending of the work day; up and down stairs to meet with colleagues; to and from the bathroom; a walk around the block for break or during lunch. I didn’t have a steps counter then, but think it added up to greater daily physical activity.
  • Clutter and stuff. The struggle is real and it also contributes to me feeling stressed. We have it. And I have my parents after cleaning out my dad’s house after he died in 2013. And my in-laws and my husband’s. I’m trying to pare down, get rid of it. Somehow I don’t seem to make much progress and seem to make more of a mess while I’m trying.
  • Contributing to the clutter is a seismic shift in what I wear. I’m not quite ready to get rid of some of my nicer skirts, jackets, shoes. Even though I’m not likely to wear them again. I finally caved and donated a trunkful of stuff last week. I do kind of miss putting an outfit together in the morning; I like jewelry and coordinating things. But given the weight gain (see above) I tend to be living a bit in stretchy things.
  • I don’t miss work. I thought I would. I was very work-focused, and fairly passionate about what I did. But I don’t miss it— sitting in a cubicle, being subject to the drama that is inevitable in any workplace or community. I don’t miss the commute. Meetings, yuck. Fast turnaround assignments that end up not being used or changed so dramatically I wonder why I bothered to include footnotes and format the damn thing. Especially when it involved a school shooting. Last year, I was pretty demoralized when a shooting occurred at a local college last year and there wasn’t any real acknowledgement by the administration that this tragedy had occurred. I was getting very burned out at the new “normal” of this sort of thing.
  • I miss some of the daily interaction with people but this doesn’t surprise me. I liked my co-workers and have found that throughout my career, most state employees are dedicated, passionate, and hard-working – despite the bum rap we get. But It hasn’t surprised me that people say they will stay in touch and then don’t. I get it. When I was still working and had friends that retired, I was so consumed with the daily hamster wheel that I wasn’t always good about staying in touch, especially the last two years I was working. I am in touch with the friends who want to spend time with me but have found that over time, people don’t stay in touch very well. And, as time goes by, I have less in common with those who are still working. AND I find I pickier about who I am willing to spend my valuable time with .
  • I have been a bit surprised that I am never bored. Sometimes, when I meet people and they learn I am retired, they say “Oh I couldn’t retire, I would be bored.” I feel bad for them. Work isn’t everything and I’m really glad to discover it doesn’t define me. I’m surprised that I don’t read more. I love to read. I just have found there are lots of things that I like to do and I get to choose how I spend my time and am able to do what I want and when I do it. I love being able to get up and eat breakfast and then get my workout in, instead of doing it at 0-dark thirty. I have re-discovered the joy of yard work. I like planting things, weeding, puttering. Seeing what’s growing. There are always projects that I can find to do and just for the heck of it, I spray-painted a small plant holder. I bought two old metal chairs for the backyard and am looking forward to re-finishing them. I bought an adult coloring book and enjoy coloring in it. I am trying new recipes for us to eat that are plant-based and healthy. I am looking forward to travel more than I thought I would and took a trip to France in July of this year. And of course, I love that I have more time to spend with our two cats.
  • I am surprised that I frequently ask myself how I did it all before. I still manage things for my mom, bills, communicate with her providers, etc. There is something almost every day that requires my attention, for her, or for our bills. The past two days, I have dealt with a bill that was paid but went to collections anyway, and some tax forms that need to be re-done. That I had even MORE to do right after my dad died and I still worked full-time astounds me (and makes me really tired — see below!)
  • I heard from others who had retired that you are really tired for the first couple of months. This is true. I have found that it isn’t every day, but there are days that despite enough sleep, I wake up tired and feel exhausted throughout the day.
  • I am deeply grateful that I have time to take care of myself – time to exercise, eat well, get enough sleep, meditate and create. I’m glad that I finally got started on this blog though I am still in the process of figuring out what I want to write about and share here. I also blog regularly on Sparkpeople so sometimes write there instead of here.

Well, time to hit publish on this. I’ve been playing with it for a week, since the one year anniversary came and went. I also had the idea that I’d write on Sundays, but that doesn’t seem to happen (yet!).

Thanks for reading. If you’re retired and any of this resonates, let me know!img_3237